The mere fact that today’s worker isn’t running down the street naked and screaming after six months of being tied to the home office (aka kitchen, spare bedroom, garage) is something to appreciate. While, no doubt, there are some cases of streaking (in true 70’s retro-style), people have maintained a decent amount of decorum.
Still, there is one group living on the edge of sanity who would benefit immensely from pragmatic intervention – remote working parents with children at their feet. I mean, in terms of herculean tasks – it is mind-blowing to see grown men and women keep it together while describing the financial impact of a product (aka Excel and shared by way of Zoom) with customers located in Bakersfield or Barcelona. While this is challenging on its own – it is not what makes Hercules green with envy. It is the fact that they are doing all of this while playing footsies with tiny humans busily building Lego cities (via a zillion itsy-bitsy pieces), hosting doll tea parties (replete with cheerio cupcakes), and experimenting with mommy’s makeup on the newest family adoption (poor Miss Furbulous kitty).
Unless we want to see these working parents flustered to the point of shedding clothes and climbing flagpoles, we need to step in with more than good wishes. Practical responses (from organization and teammate alike) are required.
In writing for the Muse, in an article titled 7 Tips for Working From Home With Kids When Coronavirus Has Shut Everything Down, Theresa Douglas suggests strategies for working parents. If you, or your team members, have children at home and find yourselves still wedged together looking at the same walls these many months after the pandemic first hit, it may be high time to onboard one or more of her pointers. They are summarized here:
#1 Get Creative with Schedules
If there is another adult at home, think about a split schedule where you can swap throughout the day with who is on “kid duty” and who is on “work watch.” Just remember that whichever time slots get worked, there will be an adjustment period as you need to retrain your thinking to focus during new “business” hours (which come in the form of productivity chunks).
#2 Be Up Front
Talk to your boss (or HR) about the need to adjust your work schedule. Find out what HR may suggest in terms of resources that could be useful during this time. At this point, they have had a few months to explore options so even if you asked early on what resources they might recommend (only to be met with a puzzled expression), ask again.
#3 Stick to a Routine
Daily routines help everyone stay occupied and can minimize the anxiety caused by the lingering effects of the pandemic. Write out a schedule for work (including which parent is on kid-duty and during which time chunk). Then, ask the children to stick the schedule on the refrigerator where everyone can see it throughout the day.
#4 Use Visual Cues to Minimize Interruptions
Adults living in small spaces can hang a stop sign on their laptops (or on the wall next to them) during work-related video or phone calls. Give younger children the opportunity to make, or decorate, their version of a sign. Not only will they have a fun craft project to do, but once they realize everyone must respect their sign, they may be excited to help enforce the do not interrupt rule.
#5 Let Kids Make Some Choices
Giving children the ability to choose some of their own activities, as well as self-serve meals or snacks, helps build independence—and allows the parent at home to grab a bit more unbroken time for work.
#6 Communicate with Coworkers
Even with the best-laid plans, children will interrupt work. They may demand attention during a conference call or come skipping along during a video meeting. It could be that they just need to be taken outside for 30 minutes to burn off some of that notorious kid-energy. Inform your coworkers that your schedule is agile, and that while projects will certainly get done, they may not be addressed during the same hours that everyone else is working. Teammates will be more understanding about interruptions if warned ahead of time.
#7 Plan Breaks with the Kids
Working for a few hours in the early morning (or evening) can present an opportunity to take what will inevitably be needed breaks throughout the day. And don’t forget to schedule breaks for the adults in the house too! Everyone needs down time.
The struggle working parents face in managing child-care is a significant pressure in non-pandemic times. During the age of global change, it has morphed into titan-sized stress. There is certainly no cure-all, nor do any techniques come with a lifetime guarantee for success. Still, there is always room to etch-a-sketch schedules or approaches and reimagine a new version where home life can be more manageable and joy-filled. After all, even though streaking in the ‘70s may have been entertaining, it is best left as a permanent fixture of that era’s history. Simply stated – sanity for the working parent should be safeguarded, and cherished, by all of us.